Onondaga County’s second oldest “mallspace” is 50 years old today. It opened on October 28, 1959. It may also be the only area shopping center that has a band named after it. (That’s actually not so weird: back in the ’60s, live bands did play there occasionally.)
Fairmount Fair was originally part of the large estate held by the Geddes family from 1796, but was sold off sometime in the early 20th century to the Terry family. Old topographical maps reveal that a horse racetrack once occupied the spot. By the time housing development began in earnest in the mid-50’s, it was a vacant lot where blackberries grew. In 1956, Eagan began developing the space for an open-air shopping plaza to be anchored by an Acme grocery. This was being done in tandem with their “Terrytown” housing development just above on the hill (where shoppers for the mall would be incubated in “Soylent Green” fashion).
Above is a view of Fairmount Fair in its earliest days. This view looks west toward Onondaga Road (where Target is today) and you can see the Acme grocery, as well as a fountain which later was included in the enclosed version of the mall better known to children of the ’70s and ’80s.
Fairmount Fair (still sporting its original name, though not its original signage) seems to be doing quite well in something like its third or fourth rejiggering since the dark days of the Syracuse area mall crash, (where the older Shoppingtown is currently being ignored by its owner, Macerich). It’s been through some bad times: drug deals sometimes went down in the parking lot, and the old mall building was reported to be sinking during the ’90s.
It’s not a place where someone would think to build a new mall today, but its small footprint (it is hemmed in on all sides by roads, streams and unbuildable topography) has probably contributed more than anything else to its longevity as a retail space. It’s not a space that can be overbuilt into sprawl. Fairmount Fair also benefits from a plum location bang off the Route 5 exit. It’s also one of a vanishing breed – a thriving shopping plaza that many local residents can walk to, on actual sidewalks.
There don’t seem to be any formal plans by current owners Benderson to note the anniversary – but in a way, none are really needed. It’s no secret that of Benderson’s two west surbuban properties (the other is Camillus Commons), Fairmount Fair got the better facelift and the cooler stores. It is certainly entering its sixth decade in style.
The socioeconomic ramifications of Fairmount Fair, of course, are also fascinating and I’ll leave those for another post (and another chapter in my ongoing Compleat History of Fairmount) – in the meantime I recommend SyracuseB4 for further reading.